Redistricting plan shortchanges New York City voters

The proposed maps for the State Senate released today by New York’s legislative task force on redistricting systematically under-represent voters from New York City, an analysis by the New York World has found.

This imbalance is created by manipulating the sizes of districts in different regions of the state. Districts in the Democratic-leaning New York City area are packed with larger populations, diluting their voting power, while those in GOP-friendly upstate region are smaller in size. (See The New York World’s analysis of the lopsided districts during the previous redistricting, in 2002.)

The process of drawing Senate lines was controlled by the chamber’s GOP majority, while the Assembly lines were drawn under the influence of the Democratic Party. But the stakes are higher in the Senate, because the lines the commission has drawn may serve to preserve the Senate Republicans’ narrow majority.

The result is that under the proposed new lines, that the average vote for the State Senate by a New York City resident weighs 7.3 percent less than the average vote cast upstate.

In the task force’s proposed map every district in New York City is more than 3 percent larger than the average district size. By contrast, the population of almost every district north of Westchester is more 4.5 percent smaller than the average-sized district.

An analysis by Bill Mahoney of the New York Public Interest Research Group, which measured the number of districts that deviated significantly from the average size, described the current proposal as “clearly the most gerrymandered lines in recent New York history.” In addition to skewing populations sizes between different districts, the GOP has created a new 63rd Senate district in the Capital region. Based on population alone, the reform group Common Cause has advised, any additional district should be in New York City.

The principle of “one person, one vote” is a cornerstone of American election law, and the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that there must be no more than a 10 percent difference between the largest and smallest districts in a state. But even this margin allows room for manipulation. By creating systematic discrepancies in the sizes of districts, parties can create additional districts in regions that support them and dilute the voting power of regions that favor their opponents.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has pledged to veto any redistricting proposal drawn by the legislature that he considers “partisan” but has carefully hedged his words to allow room for a compromise with the legislature. However, in a statement to The New York Times this afternoon, Cuomo spokesman Josh Vlasto said that “at first glance, these lines are simply unacceptable and would be vetoed by the governor.”

A veto by the Governor would send the matter to the courts to be decided.

Democrats are reacting with outrage to the task force’s proposal. “It sends a message that Republicans do not care about disenfranchising New York City residents,” said Mike Murphy, a spokesman for the New York Senate Democrats, when presented with The New York World’s findings on regional disparity. “It shows that what they care about is keeping power.”

The offices of Dean Skelos, the Republican Senate Majority Leader, and Michael Nozzolio, the Republican co-chair of the legislative redistricting task force, have not responded to our inquiries as of press time.

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